3,000 families stare at eviction in Kiryandongo

Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka. PHOTO | DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The locals want the government to compensate them for their land.

More than 3,000 families in four communities in Kiryandongo District are living in fear of a looming eviction by the government.

The affected communities include 1,200 Nubians, former victims of the Lord Resistance Army war, and local residents who are living in communities of Nyamakere, Kibeka, former Palestinian land, near Murchison National Park, and Karuma Wildlife Reserve, said they cannot do anything developmental on this land over this eviction fears.

In 2019, the communities under their association of Bunyoro Socio-economic Forum Advocacy for Community Development petitioned the Equal Opportunity Commission [EOC] to help them reign over the government such that their stay on their land is legalised.

They also asked EOC to help them order the government to compensate them for their land which it took when it was gazetting the Murchison National Park, Karuma Wildlife Reserves in 1970 and 1999.

During this gazetting, the government, according to victims, illegally took part of their land, forcing them to shift to their present places of residence which it [government] also want to forcefully take over.

EOC in response to the locals’ petition opened up a suit under number EOC/WR/067/2019 and instituted a special EOC tribunal led by Mr Joel Cox Ojuko to hear and determine the matter.

The case has since been heard numerous times at Kigumba Town Hall between the government through the Attorney General (AG) who is the respondent and the community through their association as [complainants].

Mr Yusuf Muziransa, the spokesperson of the EOC, told Monitor on Monday that the victims are a marginalised group of communities who are simply asking for being legalised as owners of the land.

“Currently, these people cannot develop this land like setting up permanent structures because of fear of another looming eviction. The were evicted in the 1970s and 1999. They also demand compensation,’’ he said.

Mr Muziransa added that displaced victims of the Lord Resistance Army war in Northern Uganda and more than 1,000 Nubians also joined the victims on the land.

“They allege that the evictions have continued to occur over a period of time punctuated with the gazetting of the land formerly owned by the victims in the present-day Murchison National Park, Karuma Wildlife Reserve and the Palestinian land that was once expropriated property given to the UPDF as a farm and now under Mukwano group of companies,” he said.

During numerous hearings, Mr Muziransa said victims contended that they have severally engaged the government to compensate and or resettle them but to no avail. 

“They contend that the actions of the respondent [government] tantamount to marginalisation contrary to the Equal Opportunities Commission Act, 2007,” he added. 

In response to the locals’ claims, the AG’s office through a memorandum states that the complainants have no claim against them and are not entitled to any reliefs prayed for. 

In the same memorandum in reply, the AG’s office raised three issues in support of the preliminary objection which included among others that; whether the EOC tribunal has jurisdiction to entertain and determine this complaint?, whether the complaint is properly before this tribunal? And whether the complaint is time-barred?

In an October 4, 2022 ruling that was officially handed over to the AG’s office yesterday, Mr Ojuko overruled all the AG’s preliminary objections giving a green light to the hearing of the case which was adjourned to July 10.

In his ruling seen by this publication, Mr Ojuko asserted that the EOC has jurisdiction to hear this case which is derived from the EOC Act, 2007 which states: “An Act to make provision in relation to the EOC pursuant to articles 32 (3) and 32 (4) and other relevant provisions of the Constitution; to provide for the composition and functions of the Commission; to give effect to the State’s constitutional mandate to eliminate discrimination and inequalities against any individual or group of persons on the ground of sex, age, race, colour, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, creed or religion, health status, social or economic standing, political opinion or disability, and take affirmative action in favour of groups marginalised on the basis of gender, age, disability or any other reason created by history, tradition or custom for the purpose of redressing imbalances which exist.”

On whether the complaint was lodged legally, Mr Ojuko said: “A number of witnesses recorded statements in support of the complaint.’’

“Some of them are Mr Ramthan Watwa, a resident of Kibyama Village, Mr Alfred Kisembo, a resident of Mpumwe and Mr Kiwanuka Jimmy, a resident of Kikonge Village, among others. This implies that the complainant received consent from affected persons to bring this complaint on their behalf,” he added. 

On AG office’s claim that the complaint was barred by time, Mr Ojuko said: “The complainants are not interested in the recovery of the various pieces of land since most of them have been gazetted into national parks and wild reserves but are rather interested in compensation and resettlement.” 

The ruling implies that the AG’s office will battle with locals before the EOC’s tribunal on July 10 unless it appeals the ruling.

The AG, Mr Kiryowa Kiwanuka, however said he is not aware of the case.
“We handle numerous cases and as of now, I don’t remember such a case. I will just go and ask for that file from my officials who are handling it and I read it then get back later,” he said yesterday.

Ban on evictions

According to the land Amendment Act 2010, tenants can resist eviction, especially if they have been paying busuulu. Landlords need a court order to evict tenants and must notify them before selling their land.

However, some of  these conditions are never followed and many tenants are being pushed off their land without court orders and due compensation.